Oregon is issuing its first warning to plastic container makers that recycling rates are declining and manufacturers may be forced to use recycled content. The state Department of Environmental Quality in Portland, Ore., said plastic recycling rates "could fall below the target recycling rate of 25 percent in the fairly near future, possibly as early as 2002."
DEQ said the recycling rate for 1998, the last year for which it has official figures, was 28.4 percent. The agency estimated the rate this year at 27-28 percent.
Recycling rates are declining because of the growth of single-serve containers, which are not covered by the state's bottle bill, and because disposal of plastic is rising faster than recycling, said Peter Spendelow, natural resources specialist with the DEQ Solid Waste Program.
"Continuing these trends through 2002 will give a recycling rate in that year of between 26.2 percent and 27.6 percent — just barely above the target rate of 25 percent," DEQ said. "Loss of any significant recycling programs during this period could lead to Oregon falling below the target recycling rate by 2002."
If that happens, bottles for food and other consumer and commercial items either would have to be made with 25 percent recycled content or from a material that is recycled at a 25 percent rate.
California recently started enforcing its own recycled-content laws when plastics recycling there dipped below 25 percent. Oregon's law is tougher than California's, which allows bottle makers to choose other options, including source reduction, when the rate drops below 25 percent.
The American Plastics Council plans to start a recycling-market referral program in Oregon similar to an effort it launched in California several months ago, said Tim Shestek, manager of state and local affairs for APC's Western Regional Office in Sacramento, Calif. Discussions about expanding that to Oregon began before DEQ's announcement, he said.
"We've been in the process of moving forward with what we think is a viable market development program," Shestek said. "We think it will have a positive impact in moving materials away from a landfill."
The Web site for that program is at www.caplasticsmarkets.com. It links buyers and sellers of recycled plastic.
"I don't see anybody panicking at this point," he said. "The Oregon recyclers seem to be saying there are sufficient markets."
The law's effects would vary by resin.
PET containers would not have to use recycled content because they are recycled at a rate much higher than 25 percent, Spendelow said. The Oregon government has not calculated current recycling rates for all PET containers, but said those covered by the bottle bill are recycled at about 90 percent.
High density polyethylene containers could have problems, because in the past the HDPE recycling rate has been a little below the average for all plastic, he said.
Less-commonly used resins such as polypropylene and PVC probably will have to use recycled content, he said.
Spendelow declined to speculate on how Oregon might enforce its law. The state can levy fines of $1,000 a day.